Bijou Theater (aka Empress)

12-14 East Superior Street | Built: 1903 | Extant (Electric Fetus) | Architect: William A. Hunt
The Bijou (later Empress) Theater. Today the building is the home of the Electric Fetus music store.(Image: Duluth Public Library.)

The Bijou Theatre stood at 12 East Superior Street and operated as part of the Sullivan and Considine vaudeville circuit from 1903 until 1911, when it became the  Empress Theatre. The Empress burned in May of 1915, and the building was converted for retail sales; it is now home to the Electric Fetus.

______________

This is a two-story orange brick commercial building originally designed as a theater with a long, narrow footprint sited on the southeast corner lot at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Superior Street. It functioned as the Bijou until 1911, when it was converted to the Empress Theater. It continued under this name until 1915, when the building suffered a fire. The structure was converted to retail use as Famous Clothing in 1965, according to the design of architects Morgenstern and Stanius, which resulted in the reworking of many elements on all four facades. The building was again remodeled in 2004 while occupied by the Electric Fetus.

The primary façade faces north onto Superior Street, with a large storefront at the first floor. Two flat orange brick piers remain as a frame for the storefront opening, which consists of new aluminum-framed fixed windows above a new glazed concrete block bulkhead. Two new aluminum frame doors with sidelights have been added as well. The original transom area is now covered by a large continuous panel with a faint grid pattern, to which a large neon sign has been affixed, reading “Electric Fetus.” A plain band of brick is visible above the transom, terminating in a narrow projecting string course of red sandstone carved with a running wave pattern.

The second floor is divided into three bays, two smaller outer bays flanking a larger recessed central bay. Large, tightly-spaced brick quoins define the edges of the outer bays, each of which contains a single opening for a 2-light sliding aluminum frame window with a small fixed transom above. The windows have a simple flat red sandstone sill, but the large head is a flat arch of four red sandstone voussoirs surrounding an oversized keystone.

The central bay is subdivided into three by two Doric brick pilasters with plain red sandstone bases and capitals.

Each bay holds a pair of 1/1 single hung aluminum frame windows topped by a large fixed transom. The sills and heads are identical in form and material to those on the outer bays. A continuous string course rests on the capitals of the central bay below a band of brick and a new projecting metal cornice containing molding courses of both small and large dentils. A low brick parapet wall appears to be slightly damaged from water infiltration and is capped by a new metal coping.

The construction of a new multi-lane freeway and off-ramps immediately to the south of the building in 1983 greatly increased the exposure and visibility of the rear façade, which was altered in 1998 through the addition of new window opening and window units, as well as new facing materials. Both the east and west facades are exposed, the east most recently revealed in 1987 through the demolition of the adjacent Strand Theater building.

The west façade of common brick was exposed in 1979 when the Bradley Building was demolished; the façade was then covered with stucco and a wide metal coping.

Sources:

  • Dierckins, Tony and Maryanne C. Norton. Lost Duluth: Landmarks, Industries, Buildings, Homes, and the Neighborhoods in Which They Stood. Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota: 2012.
  • Koop, Michael. “National Register of Historic Places Registration for the Duluth Commercial Historic District.” Minnesota State Office of Historic Preservation, St. Paul: 2005.
  • Menu